Whether you’re renting an apartment in New York City or offering a house in California, you must remain compliant. Your specific responsibilities depend on the state and locality of your rental property, but there are some general requirements in place nationwide. Here’s what you need to know about being compliant in the U.S.:
Know Your State and Local Laws
Most states, cities and towns post landlord-tenant laws on a website, while others may have a pamphlet you can get at a local office. Likewise, The Landlord Tenant Act is a valuable resource, serving as a guide for landlords and tenants throughout the country. Review both to ensure that you understand your responsibilities.
Most states and localities have clear rules as to how much you can charge for a security deposit. For example, some localities say landlords may not charge more than two months’ rent as a security deposit. Most jurisdictions also have laws regarding the proper handling of these deposits. For instance, you are typically out of compliance if you spend a tenant’s security deposit on repairs to the property, groceries, or vacations. Instead, you must hold the security deposit untouched, often in escrow, until the tenant moves out. At that point, you must return the deposit minus any fees for late payments, unpaid rent, or damage the tenant has caused to your property. Furthermore, some state laws require you to pay interest on the security deposit or return a portion of it to your tenant if he has maintained residency with you for a specific number of years. For example, in Pennsylvania, if you have charged two months’ rent as a security deposit, you must give back one month after the tenant has rented from you for one year.
Safe and Reasonable Use
To be a compliant landlord, you must ensure that your tenants have safe and reasonable use of your property. This means ensuring that the building is up to local housing codes and making necessary repairs in a timely, efficient manner. If the rental property is in such poor condition that it endangers your tenants, you may be liable for any injuries they suffer. Likewise, if your tenants cannot use a portion of the property for a significant period because you fail to make repairs, they may have the right to pay less rent or withhold rental payments altogether. In some cases, failing to maintain a rental property can lead to citations from the local government and an invalidated lease.
Keep in mind that you generally cannot restrict tenants from having guests or parties. You can, however, restrict such events if the gatherings break any law in your jurisdiction, disturb the peace or prevent other tenants from having reasonable enjoyment of their residences.
In most states, you’re required to give your tenant notice when you intend to enter the rental property. Here are some of the situations that typically require notice:
Most landlord-tenant laws require landlords to provide at least 24 hours of advance notice before entering an occupied rental property, regardless of whether the tenants have paid their rent on time. However, many laws do allow you the right to enter without notice in the event of an emergency.
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